Tuesday night Americans reelected a president who made clean energy and environmental protection a cornerstone of his first term. They chose the one candidate who spoke seriously about climate change on the campaign trail and used his authority to reduce America’s carbon pollution. They rewarded this leadership by calling for four more years of action.
This is a victory for all Americans who want to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and protect treasured landscapes. And it is a setback for the fossil fuel companies that invested so heavily in this election and have so little to show for it.
Energy issues figured prominently in this election. Candidates mentioned it frequently on the stump and it was among the top three topics discussed in campaign ads. Oil, gas, and coal companies tried to influence the debate by spending more than $150 million in campaign ads by mid-September. Polluters’ anti-environmental messages were reflected on the campaign trail, where Governor Mitt Romney ran on a platform of more drilling, more coal-fired power plants, more climate paralysis, and weaker pollution standards.
Yet despite the dirty ad blitzes and the anti-environmental policy proposals, voters rejected this outdated vision for our country. Poll after poll has identified people’s preference for a clean energy economy. Last month, for instance, Hart Research Associates found that nine out of 10 Americans, say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress, and that includes 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Independents. A survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 80 percent of car owners want to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025.
The majority of Americans realize cars that go farther on a tank of gas, wind and solar energy, and cleaner power plants will improve our health and wellbeing far more than dirty companies can.
President Obama must tap this public support and push for health and environmental progress. And he can demonstrate bold and resolute leadership on climate change. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy—and the drought that turned nearly 1,300 counties into designated disaster areas and the wildfires that forced thousands of people from their homes this year—reveal the danger climate change poses to our families and communities.
President Obama has already taken important steps to curb climate change. His administration issued fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half. It also proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But we must do still more. We need carbon limits on existing power plants (click here to send a message to the administration in support of carbon limits). We need to extend incentives for wind energy and spur investment in clean energy research. And we need to promote energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.
All of these measures will generate jobs and help clean up our air. But make no mistake, plenty of polluters and lawmakers will be lined up in opposition. Oil and gas companies will continue to pour money into the political system. The Tea Party still has many stalwarts in the House of Representatives—a body that voted over 300 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards since 2011. And the Republican leadership will still try to erode investment in clean energy innovation and technology.
It will take tremendous effort to realize the sustainable future we seek. But we will succeed with a combination of presidential leadership and citizen action. The president can’t do it alone. He must have American people behind him. The administration moved forward with its carbon limits for new power plants in part because people sent more than 3 million comments in favor of them. We must create the same momentum for similar breakthroughs.
NRDC stands for the environment, not for any party or elected official. We will do everything in our power to help President Obama deliver on his goals of clean energy and environmental protection. You can help by adding your voice to the call for clean air and clean energy. Together we can use the next four years to solidify the foundation of America’s sustainable future.